by Jack Galmitz
He was a borscht belt comedian who had so much rouge and powder on his face that he looked almost as wooden as the dummy sitting in his lap. A friend of a friend had set him up for a short gig at one of the smaller hotels in Atlantic City. He was booked for one week. He was nearly broke after a lifetime in vaudeville, early television, and even one spot in a movie that he had nearly gotten on his hands and knees to a old friend to help him get work.
The audience was thin, mostly composed of the few older visitors to Atlantic City, some of whom had seen the ventriloquist when he was younger, a rising star.
“He looks so old,” a woman with pink hair whispered to her traveling companion. “I remember when it was almost impossible to get a ticket to see one of his shows.” “Aye, the pity of it,” the other answered.
The ventriloquist and the dummy were dressed alike, in ill-fitting, loud checkered suits, the kind that hadn’t been seen in decades. They both wore white shirts, loose about the neck, with black bow ties.
“So, how does it feel to be in Atlantic City?” the ventriloquist asked the dummy.
“Better than that dump you call an apartment on the Lower East Side.” Then, he addressed the audience, “do you know he keeps me in a suitcase in a closet when we’re not working. Someone should call the police and have him arrested for unlawful restraint. You think because I’m made of wood that I don’t have feelings?”
With that a few in the audience guffawed.
“You’re not supposed to share our secrets,” the man said.
“You don’t know the half of it,” the dummy answered. “He’s a pervert if you ask me.”
“How can you say that?” the ventriloquist asked. “I’m Jewish. We call it mashuga. It’s not serious as all that.”
“Look, buddy, I know your most inner thoughts. Did you forget that? Mashuga my eye. They’d put you away if they knew what went through your mind.”
A few people, particularly the women, began to move about in their seats, a bit uncomfortable with the direction the conversation had taken.
“What about that young aspiring model that moved across the hall?” asked the dummy. Do you think it’s normal for a man your age to want her to ream you? How do you know she has the tools?”
With that all the old men burst into fitful laughter.
“And your playing with yourself while on the internet?”
“What’s wrong with playing by myself. Nearly everyone I knew is dead. There’s no one left to play with but myself.”
Again, the men laughed out loud, joined in a titter from some of the bolder women.
“So, how does it feel being a has-been? You know, it doesn’t reflect well on me that I’m the dummy of a has-been. I should be on display at MGM studios or something. You know in a glass case for having been the dummy of the once famous ventriloquist. It’s embarrassing still having to hang on. Look at our clothes, for God’s sake. Couldn’t you at least bought some new clothes for tonight’s performance?”
“Well, I thought of that, but then I thought people would want to see us as they remember us. Wasn’t that a good idea?”
“About as good an idea as Roy Rogers stuffing Trigger. Now if he had stuffed Dale Evans that would have made more sense.”
The men burst into laughter. Those with wives got elbows in their ribs.
“Speaking of taxidermy, I’m thinking of having you stuffed when you finally die,” he dummy said. “I’ll keep you looking out the barred windows in your apartment and that way I won’t get thrown out of the rent controlled apartment. Or worse. Do you know what they do to dummies of forgotten ventriloquists?”
“No, what do they do with them?”
“It’s not a pretty sight, let me tell you. The indignity of one of those large dumpsters in the alley. Just think of it. After entertaining people for over half a century ending up in a dumpster, maybe with a dead body or something.”
The old man suddenly began to cry. He didn’t make a sound, so no one in the audience knew he was crying. The tears were lost in the bright stage lights. Only the dummy knew he was crying and he had lost sympathy for the old man many years before.
In the silence, the small orchestra picked up with a drum banging and when that didn’t work, an MC came out and asked the audience for a big hand of applause for the well-known ventriloquist, which they obliged him with.